As 2022 just started, Brazil took off the new year facing one of its most devastating natural disasters in modern history, mass floods in the states of Bahia and Minas Gerais.
Brazil is no stranger to floods and massive rainfall as these have always been prevalent in the region, especially near the coast and in urban population centers. The country has primarily a tropical environment that contains two major rainforests. Up in the north there is the better preserved, larger and most well known; the Amazon. While in the south there is the lesser known and mostly devastated Atlantic Rainforest, which used to occupy around 15% of the national territory but nowadays only 12% of its original land remains standing, with major cities like São Paulo, Salvador and Rio de Janeiro being built in this biome. The summer season ranging from December to February is generally considered the rainy season, when most of the rain-related disasters take place in the country. With massive overcrowded cities being built in this tropical rain-prone environment, floods and landslides have been common occurrences, most notably in Rio de Janeiro where in 2011 summer rains caused destruction that led to a loss of life of over 900 people. Nonetheless, in the history of the country these damages had generally been contained within urban centers due to the fact that these were areas with overcrowding problems.
The floods that took place in the states of Bahia and Minas Gerais from December until January have a unique characteristic to them, in the sense that they affected both urban centers (most notably the city of Belo Horizonte) as well as more rural towns and cities that in recent history were not prepared to deal with this kind of disaster. The region was caught by surprise as previously it was facing a large drought and the rains seemed to come out of nowhere. Furthermore, one of the things that make these floods more destructive and impactful than others in recent memory, would be that many of the towns affected had very poor infrastructure leading into them due to a lack of government funding into their roads and highways. Therefore, when a disaster at this level hit said infrastructure, it crumbled under the pressure and succumbed, isolating almost completely these communities from the rest of the nation. This created an effect in which much of the medical supply that was essential for the first respondents was completely ruined by the water, and at the same time neighboring states and cities were unable to easily access said area and provide medical support and take the seriously injured into intensive care units. Amongst the vast medical supplies, life saving medicines and large sums of COVID-19 vaccines were destroyed, something essential for the communities living there especially considering the fact that many of their homes were razed to the ground and so they will need to spend vast amounts of time in close proximity to social care workers and other survivors of the disaster.
Brazil has historically ranked as one of the countries least prone to natural disasters in the world, its geographical location is gifted like almost no other large country. However, over the past decades Brazil’s weather has gotten exponentially more intense and natural phenomena like droughts and flooding have seen vast increases. Just as an example of this, at the same time as the states of Bahia and Minas in the southeast and northwest of the country are facing massive flooding, the southern states of the country are experiencing droughts which are destroying vegetation and have made those states reach temperatures upwards of 40º. This all comes as a direct consequence of climate change and deforestation in the country, since climate change is sending in much more rain and heat into Brazil, and the rainforests and swamplands which would act as a natural “sponge” and attract all of that rainfall while cooling the temperature, are becoming too small and weak to act in that function.
And despite all scientific evidence pointing out that the main (and easiest) solution to this problem is to help preserve Brazil’s natural biomes, the government seems to be actively acting against it by lowering standards in terms of environmental protection, reducing protected federal lands, and decreasing surveillance of environmental crimes. In the past two months over 108,000 people lost their homes and at least 45 people lost their lives directly due to these climate events, and this destruction is not over yet, as other regions of the country are starting to get hit as the February rains start pouring, something that already took away over 20 lives in the last week in the state of Sao Paulo. If we consider the last decade, the number of victims is over 1000.
Climate change is not a foreign concept that will only significantly affect the world in a couple of decades, it is something that is taking away thousands of lives nowadays, and something that should be a top priority to every government, especially to the ones leading the most damaged countries, such as Brazil.